Airbnb disputes fine demanded by Barcelona City Council

Ada Colau, Mayoress of Barcelona, warns of a speculative housing bubble in Barcelona

Ada Colau, Mayoress of Barcelona

Barcelona City Council is trying to punish the home sharing platform Airbnb for illegal tourist rentals in the city with a fine of €30,000, which the company argues is unjustified.

Are Airbnb and other home-sharing platforms to blame for illegal holiday rentals in Barcelona? City Hall certainly thinks so, and is going after Airbnb in particular, having issued a fine of €30,000 already and threatening more fines to come potentially as high as €600,000.

Barcelona City Council, led by left-wing activist Ada Colau, and by nature hostile towards private business, argue that global platforms like Airbnb are breaking the law by listing homes for rent that do not have the proper licences. Airbnb argue they are not responsible for the actions of users who list properties that do not comply with local laws.

“We are saddened by this decision and will appeal it,” an Airbnb spokesperson has told the news service EFE, whilst pointing out that the home sharing platforms are “part of the solution for Barcelona.” Airbnb also argue they help spread the income from tourism around the city.

Who is right, Airbnb or Ada Colau and her leftist City Council? Is Airbnb responsible for ensuring that all local laws are complied with before listing a property for rent? Is that even feasible for a global platform? Probably not. I doubt that the likes of Airbnb are viable if they are held responsible for complying with municipal laws all over the world.

Surely it’s up to Ada Colau and her administration to sort out the problem of holiday-rental properties in Barcelona at a municipal level by going after people who do not comply with local laws. Issuing unrealistic fines that will never be paid is not going to help.

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5 thoughts on “Airbnb disputes fine demanded by Barcelona City Council”

  1. Profile photo of GarySFBCNGarySFBCN

    San Francisco recently passed strict laws regulating AirBnB, holding them accountable for listing tourist rentals that have not been legally registered at city hall, a requirement.

    AirBnB protested in court and while that was in process, the city changed the law slightly – not fining them for listing unregistered properties, but fining them for facilitating the financial transaction for renting unregistered properties.

    I have to say this again – had AirBnB engaged city hall and attempted to obey the laws, none of this would have happened.

    1. Profile photo of Mark StücklinMark Stücklin Post Author

      Gary, are these home-sharing platforms viable if they have to comply with the laws of every municipality where they have homes listed for rent? I can’t see it happening. I think its up to the municipality to enforce their own laws, and go after illegal rentals. And can’t they use these platforms to identify illegal rentals?

      1. Profile photo of GarySFBCNGarySFBCN

        The viability of websites complying with local laws probably depends upon the underlying technology for each website. But AirBnB does already have separate rules for San Francisco rentals – at the end of the year, rental owners (and our tax agencies) are sent summaries of the total income from the rental units, and taxes must be paid on that income. It was a huge battle to get them to comply with that law. As someone who has developed many database systems, i would be shocked if AirBnB’s platform didn’t allow for an easy modification that is driven by jurisdictional laws.

        And if we look to the history of hotels and local laws (in the US anyway), we can see that yes, they have complied with local laws and prohibition against smoking is a good example. Most of our laws that prohibit smoking started in local municipalities and then expanded to the state level, and hotels did comply every time. Same for ‘anti-discrimination’ laws against gays – they were enforced in hotels in large cities that had laws against this type of discrimination and then, when states adopted these laws, the hotels complied across the state. Also, every local municipality has it’s own version of ‘tourist taxes’ and the rates and even the tax categories in municipalities are often unique. There are many other examples as well.

        Regarding enforcement, that San Francisco modified it’s law to focus upon the actual illegal transaction, instead of the listings of unregistered rentals on websites, is now making AirBnB (and other platforms) a party in the “crime.” The data used for enforcement is easily ‘scraped’ from the AirBnB website and there are many third-party vendors that are good at doing just that.

        The point of fining AirBnB is this: San Francisco now has to pay for staff, office space and other infrastructure to monitor and enforce the law. This wouldn’t be necessary if AirBnB made a minor, one-time change to change their rental registrations for San Francisco rentals to require the local registration number of the rental unit before listing it on their website.

        AirBnB has spent over $10 million to influence politicians and voters in San Francisco, instead of doing the right thing. And while they won a few battles, the foolishly lost the war on this one.

        And here is what is most interesting: Within reason, I actually support people being able to rent their places to tourists! But it needs to be regulated and there needs to be recourse when things go wrong or if chronic problems develop. So far, AirBnB’s message to aggrieved parties is “try to catch us.”

        Their corporate arrogance is repulsive. I’m focusing upon AirBnB as they are the big fish in the pond, but other websites are implicated in this as well.

  2. Profile photo of rojoybagorojoybago

    Well, as much as i hate the commie mayor in Barcelona it must be admitted that they have a huge problem with unregulated rentals –

    In Andalucia the law is quite simple; if you list on Airb bnb you publish your licence number on the relevant page…. Mr Larrain – the lawyer on this web site – has kindly provided the procedure to expedite the application ….

    It should be noted that the commie mayor recently invited the ex finance minister of Greece (Varoukis?) to a symposium in the Catalan capital and put him up in the best five star hotel and paid the bill with city funds – Much champagne and lobster was charged to the room……

  3. Profile photo of Chris NationChris Nation

    If we agree that some form of regulation/compliance is reasonable for holiday rental flats – and I think it is, as long as the regulation itself is reasonable and sensible and not deliberately designed to make it uneconomical to comply, as I believe is the case in Madrid – then I can see that going after the platforms such as A.BnB rather than every individual property, is a cost-effective and efficient way to do it.

    Registration of holiday flats brought to mind the way UK Gas Safe registers individuals (plumbers) and companies certified to work on gas installations. A prospective customer can see, when looking at any sales material produced by a registered plumber or company, the Gas Safe logo. The Gas Safe register is open to the public. A customer can confirm current registration.

    I rented a couple of rooms in my house in Bristol. Although the lodgers were licencees, not tenants, and so almost entirely outside tenancy legislation, I still had to have my gas installation certified as safe by a Gas Safe plumber. Adding safe electrics certification and fire extinguishers to a holiday rental registration is perfectly reasonable and affordable.

    In the case of holiday flats, it must be a simple matter to require the marketing platform to confirm registration before a listing is accepted.

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